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Four Great Companies Founded by Xiangshan People

The first department store in the world was founded in Paris in the 1830s. At that time, the capitalist commodity economy developed rapidly. With carriages as the major transportation vehicles, people could travel farther. Scattered stores gradually converged on downtown area, spurring the formation of business streets. The rising of department stores is considered “the first revolution in retail industry”, which was featured in convergence of goods, sales of goods in classified counters, introduction of goods through advertising and shop windows, marked price, consumer-friendliness, large sales volume, and considerable profits of goods. The success inspired capitalists throughout the world to follow the lead of Paris and set up numerous department stores and business streets.

China’s first department store was founded at the end of the 19th century. And the earliest department store invested by overseas Chinese, Sincere Co. Ltd. (Hong Kong) was founded on January 8, 1900. As for the time when Sincere Co. Ltd. (located in NO. 318, Changdi, Guangzhou) was founded, it is still a matter of controversy. Words Encyclopedia says it is 1911, the History of Chinese Commerce (compiled by Heilongjiang Commercial College) holds 1900 while Mr. Xiao Fanbo and Mr. Luo bohua, in their article published in Cultural and Historical Data of Guangzhou, insist on 1914. However, the exact date of foundation, according to textual research, should be June 20, 1912. This has been confirmed by the historical data of commerce in Guangzhou. In 1985 when Mr. Guo Lihuo died, his overseas friends and relatives gathered in Guangzhou. On this occasion, the author presented historical materials to the persons concerned for confirmation. According to Ma Wenhui, the forth son of Mr. Ma Yingbiao, this version was reliable.

The term “Four Great Companies” originates from the daily phrases of people living in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau in the 1920s. The term “Four Great Companies” is mostly alike but with slight differences in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. “Four Great Companies” refer to Sincere Co. Ltd., Wing On Co. Ltd., Da Sun Co. Ltd., and Zhong Hua International Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong; Sincere Co. Ltd., Da Sun Co. Ltd., Zhenguang Co., Ltd., and Guang Shuang Co., Ltd. in Guangzhou; Sincere Co. Ltd., Wing On Co. Ltd., Sun Sun Co . Ltd., and Da Sun Co. Ltd. in Shanghai. Accepted through common practice within the same trade, the term “Four Great Companies” varies in accordance with the influence and scale. Scale refers to the floor area that the department stores covered, the height of buildings, the variety of commodities, the amount of funds, and the number of staff; and influence refers to the operation, advertising, reputation, service, facilities, specialties, etc.

"Four Great Companies” in Hong Kong?Sincere Co. Ltd. was founded on January 8, 1900, and the founder and General Director was Mr. Ma Yingbiao, General Manager Mrs. Chen Shaoxia, and Manager Mr. Ma Yongchan. Although the exact date of foundation is still unknown, Da Sun Co. Ltd. was founded by Mr. Cai Xing and Mr. Cai Chang later than Sincere Co. Ltd. Founded by Mr. Guo Quan and Mr. Guo Le, Wing On Co. Ltd. started business on June 28, 1907. Zhong Hua International Holdings Ltd., founded by Chen Shaoxia, started business later than the other three.

“Four Great Companies” in Guangzhou: Located at Shi Bapu, Guangshang Co., Ltd. was the earliest one and started business in 1907. Following that, Zhenguang Co., Ltd., founded by Mr. Huang Zaiyang and Mr. Huang Zaichao, started business in 1910, (Zhenguang Co., Ltd. was later renamed Sun Sun Co . Ltd.?the present Guangyu Mansion). After that, Sincere Co., Ltd., located at No. 318, Changdi (the present Huaxia Co., Ltd), started business on June 20, 1912. The founder of Sincere was Mr. Ma Yingbiao, Manager Mr. Ma Zujin, and Associate Manager Gao Qihe. Sincere Co., Ltd set up a branch company in Hui’ai Road (the present Beijing Clothing Store), which was known as In-town Sincere, distinct from the parent company located in Changdi. Xidi Co. Ltd. was founded in 1918 by Mr. Cai Xing, Mr. Cai Lv, and Mr. Cai Huiming. Having a permanent residence in Hongkong, Mr. Cai Xing was listed as one of Hong Kong’s celebrities; With the nickname “Daban Chang”, Mr. Cai Chang took a permanent residence in Guangzhou. Since 1939, Zheng Jiaoer and Cai Guanshao served respectively as the Manager and the General Treasurer. At that time, a sidewalk was set up from the first floor to the forth floor, through which cars could pass. This unique design was rarely seen in domestic market. Afterwards, the company set up a branch store in front of the Provincial Department of Finance (the construction site of the present department store on Zhongshanwu Road. The branch was called In-town Da Sun Co. Ltd., distinct from the parent company located in Xidi. Cai Kaiyuan, and Zhe Zeshen and Cai Bosen served respectively as Manager, General Secretary and General Treasurer for the company. Nothing in the world could be held for long, and prosperity is not an exception. On June 12, 1976, Guangzhou Changdi Sincere Co. Ltd. was ruined in fire, and 24 people lost their lives; just on the eve of Japanese invaders’ occupation, Xidi Da Sun Co. Ltd. has been burnt for three days and four nights, leaving only framework. Later on, through the reinforcement and restoration by the Commercial Department of Guangzhou on the basis of the original structure, Xidi Da Sun Co. Ltd. started business on the eve of the National Day in 1954 and renamed itself Nanfang Mansion. Due to the dyke breaching on the coasts of Pearl River on July 13, 1915, Shi Ba Pu geo-depression region made Zhenguang Co., Ltd. suffered inundation. At first, clerks prevented flood with bed boards and mud. However, the flood was so fierce that it flooded into ditches, making it impossible to remove the commodities. Clerks then protected the glass counters with bricks, but their efforts went in vain, and the glass counters were drowned. On the same day, neighborhood caught fire, resulting in the explosion of oil storage. The fire spread along with the spread of water, making Zhenguang Co., Ltd. involved. It is just the “1915 inundation” and the hazard of fire that made Zhenguang collapse and unable to recover. 

The “Four Great Companies” in Shanghai: Sincere Co. Ltd. was the earliest one founded by Ma Yingbiao and Huang Huannan, and started business on October 20, 1917. Huang Huannan and Liu Xiji served respectively as Manager and Associate Manager. Founded by Guo Quan, Guo Le, and Guo Biao, Wing On Co. Ltd. started business on September 5, 1918. Da Sun Co. Ltd. was founded by Cai Xing and Cai Chang, while Sun Sun Co., Ltd. was founded by Liu Xiji. At present, Sincere Co. Ltd., Wing On Co. Ltd., Da Sun Co. Ltd., and Sun Sun Co. Ltd. were transformed respectively into Shanghai Clothing Store, Shanghai No.10 Department Store, Shanghai No.1 Department Store, and Shanghai No.1 Food Store. 

As was confirmed, all of the founders of the “Four Great Companies” in Hong Kong, Guanzhou and Shanghai were from Xiangshan (Zhongshan). As overseas Chinese capitalists, they were enterprising and far-sighted. With unique view and broad horizon, they developed domestic industry and commerce by utilizing overseas investment. In 1914, when Huang Huannan went to Shanghai for the selection of the site of Sincere Co. Ltd., Nanjing Road was relatively sparsely populated. Therefore, he sent the staff to dispatch at each crossroad to calculate the number of people passing by. As was shown by the statistics accumulated over one month, the people passing through Nanjing Road and Zhejiang Road was larger than in any other street, so the site was determined at the North of Nanjing Road. In 1915, when Guo Quan went to Shanghai to set up Wing On Co. Ltd. with 500,000 yuan brought from Hongkong, he sent two people, respectively at the south and north of Nanjing Road, to observe the population flow. Through counting beans, it was measured that there were more passengers in the south road than in the north road. Therefore, the south of Nanjing Road was finally determined as the site. After the two companies started business, Nanjing Road gradually became the lively downtown. As for operation, the four great companies had their own distinctive features, for instance, apart from the major operation of general merchandise, Sincere Co. Ltd. and Wing On Co. Ltd. respectively possessed the Eastern Asia Hotel and Dodong Hotel, complementing one another. Before the war, these two companies developed toward inland coastal cities, for instance, setting up Zhongyuan Shopping Plaza in Tianjin. Meanwhile, Wing On Co. Ltd. set up large-scale Wing-On Textile Mills in Shanghai, so as to vigorously develop industry in Shanghai. With daring spirit and great ambition, the predecessors of overseas Chinese entrepreneurs are worthy of forever praise and respect.

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